How Long Can You Keep Your Mask Off While Eating And Drinking On A Plane?

When face mask policies were introduced for air travel last year, ‘but I’m drinking’ became a common excuse and passengers could nurse a Starbucks throughout the entire flight.

That’s what Texas Senator Ted Cruz did last summer,

However the ruse was exposed because he didn’t wear a mask over his nose and mouth inside the terminal when he’d travel, either.

Back in September one man nursed a can of Pringles for an entire four hour flight just to see if he could. The airline confirmed he was fully within his rights.

This is no longer acceptable traveling on U.S. airlines. The rules now say you have to put your mask back on between bites or sips.

  • American says,

    You can briefly lower or remove your face covering while actively eating, drinking or taking oral medication, but it must be worn between bites and sips.

  • United says,

    There may be times when you may need to remove your mask in the airport or on the aircraft, such as when briefly eating or drinking. Federal law requires you to immediately put your mask back on between bites and sips.

  • Delta says “Prolonged periods of mask removal are not permitted for eating or drinking – masks need to be worn between bites and sips.”

Tolerance for this is wearing thin elsewhere in the world, too. Lufthansa, for instance, has even gotten tougher about what masks may be worn. People who travel really should wear better quality masks. And the ‘but I’m eating’ exception no longer gives passengers a mask-free flight pass there, either.

Miikka Peuravirta has been banned from Finnair for 6 months for taking his mask off to eat and drink. The airline says it’s permitted to do so ‘for a limited time’. The passenger says he ‘didn’t know what a limited time meant’.

When drinks were served on the hour-long flight from Oulu to Helsinki, he nursed his drink and started nibbling on nuts. He was told to wear his mask, but refused because he was eating. According to his Facebook live, it was a lot of nuts.

He was given a written warning, and police met the aircraft on arrival in Helsinki. He’s been banned from Finnair not for a mask rule violation as such, but for failure to follow crewmember instructions.

Make no mistake: nursing your nuts is no longer an excuse to go maskless on board an aircraft. Put your mask back on between bits or sips if it’s going to be more than a couple of seconds.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The political and/or nuts commentary should be better than usual on this one since Gary did such a great setup.

  2. I’ve milked it for a good 30 minutes.

    For me, I just keep a bottle of water around – Which I’ll sip on, just to catch an actual mask-less breath every now and again. I did however, travel with a friend who managed an entire 2 hours+ without one.

  3. 6 more months, and then I bet we’re back to normal in the US, taking into account that lots of things (businesses, government, etc.) are slow to adapt to change.

    At least, I hope it’s only 6 months.

  4. The mentality that spending time devising ways to avoid putting on a mask for an hour flight is preferable to just following the rules…partially explains all the preventable deaths that have occurred.

  5. why put yourself at risk and keep your mask off as long as possible? You are unnecessarily putting yourself at an exposure. Recommend using a straw to avoid taking of the mask for drinks

  6. Only reason they have all these rules is because covidiots like Ted Cruz will have one drink and just sip it the entire flight so they don’t have to wear a mask at all. Some people will come up with every little loophole they can exploit.

  7. @Pete – Zero evidence exists for your statement. There is actually not a whole lot of info on the efficacy of these non-N95 masks. Can you name a country where mask wearing has proven to stop the spread? There are locales across the US (and other countries) which have not enforced mask wearing. They are no worse off for it.

    @drdrew – Here’s a novel idea: Let people decide for themselves what risk tolerance is acceptable. That’s called freedom. It would be nice if we can rediscover it.

    @Bill – Maybe if we didn’t have these ridiculous rules, we wouldn’t need a loophole!

  8. Funny…..No mention of Dianne Feinstein getting caught at IAD without a mask? Is the purpose of this article to discuss masks or take shots at Ted Cruz?

  9. @Gary – My issue with this article in general isn’t “how long” or “who dunnit.” Infection risk is a function of exposure degree and duration. The exposure when *everyone takes their mask off at the same time for meal service* is the primary concern, and exactly how airline service works at the front of the plane.

    I’m hoping this will all be moot soon as people vaccinate en mass, but I can tell from the attitude in your comment section (“no vaccines because freedom!” will undoubtedly be the next debate) that America will be screwed for longer than I’d like.

  10. “Put your mask back on between bits or sips if it’s going to be more than a couple of seconds.”

    No one in their right mind would do this, which means Gary will. Covid Derangement Syndrome at its finest.

  11. Another Karen of the day post, this one with the author’s political agenda attached. Dreck blog.

  12. Many of the comments are disappointing. The virus is spread by droplets. Droplets come out of the nose and more often the mouth. Some people breathe more droplets than others. You can’t really separate those who breathe droplets and those who don’t. so the sensible thing to do is to wear a mask and for everyone else to do so also. Asking to prove various statistics is nonsense. It has been proven that it is spread by droplets. So stop the droplets. It is good to see airlines get serious about enforcing this. If you don’t believe all of this, it is time to give others the benefit of the doubt and wear a mask anyways. Nursing snacks to avoid mask rules is rude and obnoxious.

  13. @Bill – Is there any concrete evidence that Covid is spread mainly by droplets? I’ve seen that on TV, but I don’t really trust what I see TV. I’m not a scientist so I can’t make a definitive claim. Common sense suggests that this virus is more aerosolized than is being let on. Aerosolized virus easily gets through a mask. What else explains the surges in areas where masks are widely adhered to? Moreover, the surges in areas where masks are not enforced are not worse. This suggests that MASKS ARE (almost) USELESS. So I’ll choose to trust my own eyes and common sense. I’m comfortable saying in a public forum that I believe the mask mandates are an unnecessary infringement on people’s personal freedom. If they would actually help, I think it would be a justified infringement on personal freedom.

  14. @ Sam here’s your mask common sense right here: and beyond that simplistic common sense there is also actual medical and scientic proof that mask wearing reduces the spread of covid.
    Your information on sugres and mask evidence is mistaken. Plus you also must take into account the people in the areas of mask requirement must also actually adhere to those rules properly for it to actually work – such as wearing the mask over mouth and nose and not taking it off on a flight, or in a store etc etc so the problem is there are alot of rule breakers disguised as mask wearers out there scewing the evidence on the efficacy of mask wearing.
    Yes, the masks make a difference on the spread of viruses – no it’s not an infringement on your personal rights any more than you can’t go naked in public, you must wear your seatbelt, no smoking in public places, no shirt-no shoes-no service – I could go on and on about all the rules that make sense to most and no one argues because they are used to such rules. There’s no such thing as 100% freedom – to give freedom, to one group, you have to take it away from another. Let’s take the smoking laws which used to favor the smokers and their FREEDOMS – until the law finally decided people’s right not to be exposed to cancer causing second hand smoke (which takes much longer to harm you than a virus) was more important than people’s rights to expose themselves to it whereever they wanted. Are you against that law too?
    You say you have common sense – you can’t possibly think the masks have made ZERO difference on the spread? It’s a pandemic you have to fight it with every tool you can – imagine if people stopped fighting each other and just tried to do whatever they could to fight the spread instead?

  15. @Suzanne – Your link is ridiculous and your knowledge here shows just how little you know about masks. If you want to apply common sense, how is it you must board an airplane at 6 feet apart yet it is perfectly fine to sit for hours inches away from someone sneezing, coughing and spewing who knows what all over you? While you are eating with your mask off? Oh, right I forgot about the super duper ventilation system. Yeah sure…..

    That you can go into a restaurant and again be inches apart for however long you like all the while spitting and chewing your food but the minute you have to stand up, its mask time!

    Wake up already. Masks don’t work for SAR-CoV-2 and this is all about control. Meanwhile they are significantly harming you and the environment. The one place masks work are in sterile operating rooms, where doctors apply them correctly and change them often. Go walk through a Costco or Target or any place for that matter and focus on people’s faces and actions. How often they touch their themselves, readjusting, large gaps, dirty, stinking, disgusting masks they haven’t changed since whenever.

    See if you can read through this link, which actually references sources at the end.

    If you can make it through that article and still have some doubts you can read here.

    Finally, one more for you.

    Good luck to you! I wish you well and look forward to reading your next piece of wisdom.

  16. @Todd Let me get this straight…your theory is that the powers that be all over the world secretly got together to make everyone wear masks to control us? And what is it “they” are gaining from this “control” ? Sorry – genuinely cannot follow your logic on your conspiricy theory.
    Can’t wrap your head around the pee analogy? Really? Yes, it’s use of pee as an analogy is meant to be a bit ridiculous for people like you who cannot grasp the simplicity of if two people are NOT wearing masks and they talk or cough near each other the droplets and aerosols of spit are easily spread whereas if both people are wearing masks – the spread is REDUCED. We can’t stop it completely so we must use whatever possible things we can do at this point.
    I already mentioned people must use them properly – yes, wash them, don’t touch them, keep them on, dispose of them properly – make them out of the right materials, regulate them etc. Duh. Of course. Imagine if more people complied.
    You sending several links about bad mask products doesn’t prove that masks do not work – it proves that our country is bad at regulating proper production of products – you can find links to a millions products that were badly tested and made and do more harm than good, from cars to cribs to meds to pillows to just about anything – doesn’t mean there aren’t also several more effective safe ones made out there. It also doesn’t mean the good ones don’t help reduce the spread.
    Seriously you are not arguing with me – you are arguing with doctors, scientists, The WHO, the CDC, and countless others with way more definitive knowledge than you or me – masks work. I suppose those are the ones you think are just trying to control you? I’d love to know what they are getting out of it. You’re the one who needs to wake up.

  17. The tiny little virus knows when you have your mask off, and promises not to be ejected from your holes in those moments

    Is it any wonder the world laughs at all Americans as Anal Retentives??

  18. The airline I fly on has started serving full meals in first class. I keep my mask off the entire 15-20 minutes I eat. I’m fully vaccinated and I refuse to “mask between bites”. I’ve tried chewing with a mask on and it’s gotten food on the inside of my mask and it’s uncomfortable to chew with it on. If airlines don’t want people removing masks, don’t serve huge meals or drinks. Period. I’m tired of this entrapment. The last flight I was on, I saw this one guy get away with one wearing a mask for a full hour and FA’s knew he had it off. I wonder if they just didn’t want to get into it with him. Pick your battles.

  19. Why were masks not required pre-Covid for such things as Whooping Cough, Totally Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, Common Colds, seasonal flu, SARS, MERS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, etc., etc.? We have had, and still have, far worse than Covid floating around the airline cabins, not to mention those days when smoking was allowed. If all we got out of this entire situation is better air filtration and more thorough cleanings between flights it will have been worth it!

  20. It’s entrapment to serve snacks, meals, and drinks while being treated as if you have a disease, even while fully vaccinated. I’ve flown more than 6 times during all stages of this pandemic and I’ve never seen anyone mask-up between “bites and sips”. I tried chewing with a mask on and it simply didn’t work, plus the inside the mask got red due to the red sauce on the sandwich I was served. This is simply ridiculous. This is not to say I take advantage of not masking while eating. I usually eat for a minute and then pause and put my mask back on. However, depending on when the FA passes you, they could end up only getting glimpses of you maskless while eating, thus giving the appearance that you’re not masking up at all while eating. Here’s a thought…STOP SERVING FOOD AND DRINK. This is entrapment!

  21. I had no idea about all this hoopla about masking between bites and found myself at major odds with the flight attendant on a 9 hour flight last night as half way through as they “caught” me (I was sitting in a very visible spot just next to the galley) multiple times in what they thought was a scheme to not wear my mask… but really was me just having a drink or a chew of a pretzel now and then. Now I had no idea this argument even existed but when he scolded me for the third time over multiple hours – for not having a mask on – i literally opened my mouth to show him i had food in it and he lost his mind, threatening me with reprucussions. For the record, I was not trying to a an anti-masker or Karen or whatever, honestly just ABSOLUTELY never even considered someone would want you to put your mask on IN BETWEEN BITES! In fact i didn’t know that was the rule until just now reading this article. So how slow was i eating pretzel pieces? Maybe i had 3 pieces before he scolded me – 1 every 30 seconds. I wasn’t scarfing them down as they are quite dry. I may have had my mask off for 2 minutes. This whole thing has gotten out of control.

  22. Thanks, moron sheeple for empowering the fascists with your feel-good antics. Meanwhile, death rates are unchanged, and life is normal where people allow it to be.

  23. Masks should be worn to those who want to wear a useless mask. The people who I know that caught covid all wore masks. I refuse to. Never caught it. I will wear it around my neck but never on my face. I can’t breathe with it. If you are wearing a mask and I am not, why do you care?
    You say they stop covid. Then leave me alone.

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